Of all the opponents who will be at the forefront of David Beckham’s mind in the run-up to this summer’s World Cup, it would be fair to say that New England Revolution’s Avery John is probably not one of them.As a former Shelbourne United and Longford Town left back in the Irish League, it was never likely that the Trinidad and Tobago international would cross paths with the Manchester United, Real Madrid and England winger.
But come June 15 at the Franken-Stadion in Nuremburg, John could be handed the unenviable task of shackling England’s golden boy and preventing those irresistible crosses with which he has become so famously associated.
“To be honest it won’t just be Beckham – (Steven) Gerrard and (Frank) Lampard can also drift out to the right because their midfield tends to be quite fluid. And that’s not to mention Rooney dropping deep as well,” said John with a wry smile.
Amid scenes that mirrored if not surpassed those which took place in Bermuda last summer, Trinidad’s first ever qualification for the football World Cup in November saw the Caribbean island erupt with joy.
And just by the gleam in his eye when he talks about that famous victory over Bahrain which secured Trinidad’s place in Germany, it is instantly clear that the pride associated with such an historic achievement is in no danger of wearing off.
“I find it difficult to put into words quite how incredible the feeling was when we made it,” he said.
“We had started the campaign badly (with two defeats in qualifying) and we were suddenly handed a new coach (Dutchman Leo Beenhakker) who none of us were familiar with. So to turn it around like we did was an amazing achievement really.
“The plane ride back to Trinidad was unforgettable. Put it this way, we didn’t get a minute’s sleep and it was party time from start to finish. What made it even better was that the plane was half full of our own supporters who had come over to watch the game – so as you can probably imagine the atmosphere was special.
“But when we got to the airport it was another thing entirely. There were thousands of people everywhere and we were met by the prime minister and other officials and taken on a parade back to Port of Spain. The journey usually takes between 30 or 40 minutes when there is no traffic but there were so many people on the streets waving flags, shouting, singing and waving at us that it took several hours.
“We were all exhausted but very happy at the same time. As is the case everywhere, we have our social and economic problems in Trinidad. We have quite a significant ethnic mix as well which doesn’t always help with the unity of our country. But this was an achievement which brought us together like nothing else I have ever seen and there were people from all backgrounds out on the street. It was all so emotional.”
The odds on Trinidad making it through to the knockout stages in a first round group containing England, Sweden and Paraguay are long indeed.
With a fully fit midfield quartet arguably unequalled in world football, plus Rooney and Owen up front, England are expected to reach the semi-finals at the very least while Sweden are something of a bogey team for the group favourites.
John, of course, was having none of such pessimism – the clichés coming thick and fast as he argued that Trinidad could be the surprise package in Germany.
“There would be absolutely no point in us going if we were just happy to be making up the numbers,” he said.
“Since the new coach came in we’ve generally been a very tough, organised team and we will not be easy to beat. Apart from Dwight (Yorke) we don’t have any really big names so it is a case of working hard as a unit.
“I think we’ll do better than people expect. There is a huge amount of pressure on teams like England to do well and if they do not beat us easily, their fans and the media will criticise them. So we will go into the match as underdogs which could work to our advantage.”
While John played an integral part in the qualifying campaign, his place in the final squad which travels to Europe this summer is rather less certain than it was 12 months ago.
As it stands, he is not absolutely sure of a starting position in the Revolution’s first team, a reality underlined by the fact that he was on the bench for all three of their most recent games on the Island against Bermuda, LD Alajuelnse of Costa Rica and Jamaica Under-23s.
When signed by Revs’ coach Steve Nicol in May, 2004, the 30-year-old found himself at the heart of the first team’s central defence within two weeks of arriving at the club and he ended up starting 19 of the 21 matches in which he appeared.
Now though, with younger players such as Michael Parkhurst in the team ahead of him and others snapping at his heels, John fears a lack of football may jeopardise his chances of making the World Cup squad.
When asked the inevitable question, whether he would consider leaving the Revs early next season if his chances were still limited, he did not duck the issue.
“I don’t want it to obviously but it may come to that,” he said.
“When I’m fully fit and playing regularly, I’d like to think that I’d be the first-choice left back for Trinidad. I think I proved myself in the qualifiers and I’m pretty sure the coach has confidence in me. There are no guarantees though and if I’ve been spending too much time on the bench and am not match fit, then I could miss out. The World Cup is too important to just sit back and accept not playing.
“There will come a time in the not too distant future when I will have to sit down with Steve and discuss the situation. I’m happy here and I’d like to stay but the bottom line is I have to be playing.”
He may not have set professional football alight, but John has certainly trod a varied and interesting road from rather humble beginnings.
He grew up only around four miles from where Bermuda’s national cricket coach Gus Logie spent his childhood in the rural south of Trinidad. Impromptu games of football, cricket and basketball on the “savannah” were a way of life and it was not long before John’s sporting talents began to stand out.
Being from a large family of modest means, John knew his parents could not afford to lavish money on education and his worst fear was that he would be stuck in Trinidad forever – with his ambitions left unfulfilled.
But his footballing skills were sufficient to attract the attention Trinidad’s youth coaches and earn him a scholarship to the American University in Washington DC.Following a successful college career, John went on to play for the New Orleans Riverboat Gamblers before being picked up by Nicol to play for the Boston Bulldogs in the US A-League.His thoughts, however, quickly turned to expanding his footballing horizons across the Atlantic and John decided to sign for Bohemian FC, a team in the Republic of Ireland League.
“I knew I wanted to play in Europe somewhere and I saw Ireland as a stepping stone,” he said.
“The standard there was good and I enjoyed my football, even if I was ultimately looking for a move to bigger teams.”
Spells at Shelbourne FC and Longford Town followed – before a bitter contractual dispute with the latter saw him threatened with the prospect of a FIFA sanctioned ban from all football.
“I went on a football tour with the Trinidad national team to South Africa and I was eventually asked whether I would like to go and play for the Orlando Pirates,” he explained.
“I was still contracted in Ireland and all I did was train with the Pirates a few times when I was out there, and there was nothing to stop me doing that. In my contract it was written that I could leave the club whenever I wanted, so as far as I was concerned it was a matter of me telling them I was going to move and them releasing me.
“But they did not see it that way. Now, they knew there was no way I was going to play for them after that but they acted spitefully and made it difficult for me. Then the deal to play for the Pirates fell through at the last minute and all of a sudden I had nowhere to play.”
John’s attempts to sign for clubs in England and France witnessed a succession of near misses, as work permit issues and restrictions on the number of overseas players scotched his efforts to win contracts at Paris St. Germain, RSAP & Bastia in France as well as Colchester United in England.
He also trained with Birmingham City, with manager Steve Bruce keen on winning his signature – before the fates conspired against him once again.
“I went to Birmingham in 2004 because I needed to stay fit for the national team games,” John said.
“I didn’t have a club at that stage and I desperately needed to keep myself sharp. Steve Bruce seemed to like the look of me because he called me in one day and told me that he would like to sign me because there were quite a few injuries around he needed a left sided player.
“I carried on training with them and Bruce was just about to ask the board for permission to sign me when a couple of the players in my position made early recoveries from injury and my signing could no longer be justified.
“It was unlucky. I was days away from signing for a Premier League club and having the chance to improve myself in a fantastic environment. I was incredibly frustrated at that stage as it seemed everywhere I turned something would work against me.”A desperate John then phoned Nicol, his old manager from the Boston Bulldogs who had taken over at the Revolution, not as it happened to beg for a job but to get the phone number for a manager of another A-League team.“When he heard I was without a team, he seemed surprised and said he’d call me back later,” John revealed.
“When he phoned back, he told me they were short of players in my position and asked me whether I’d like to come over for them to have a look at me. I didn’t need to be asked twice.”
John signed for the Revs on May 19 just under two years ago and has received widespread praise for his performances.
And with a World Cup place within his grasp, he seems set to conclude his career on a high note having looked at one stage as if he was to become another of football’s nearly men.
“It was all looking a bit disappointing but I’ve fought through,” he said.
“I never gave up and have always worked hard. There are thousands of other youngsters in Trinidad who are striving to make it and I hope they might be able to look at me and see that it is possible to do well as long as you are dedicated and you want it enough.”